One in six Charlottesville residents is food insecure. This means that about 17 people in a general 100-person lecture class at UVA lacks reliable access to affordable, nutritious food (Dictionary.com). This statistic inspired the creation of the Environment & Equity Fellowship at UVA as part of the First Lady’s Morven Food Lab. The lab’s intended purpose is to serve as a physical and organizational space where UVA students and faculty can collaborate with the Charlottesville Food Justice Network (CFJF) and the City Schoolyard Garden (CSG) to explore issues related to food, farming, and sustainability. The fellows, Alexandra Cook, a fourth year Government Major and Spanish Minor, and Jessie Duska, a fifth year Master’s of Public Health Candidate with a B.S. in Religious Studies, work under the guidance of CFJN Director Shantell Bingham. Alexandra, Jessie, and Shantell are working to support and advance efforts to address food justice and equity within the Charlottesville food system.

Both Alexandra and Jessie had an initial interest in food justice advocacy and were looking for a way to further understand the root problems behind food insecurity in Charlottesville. “I remember reading about the Fellowship in a UVA Sustainability email and really thinking, Wow, finally something that is at the intersection of all of my interests.” Jessie initially pursued this fellowship because of her interest in One Health, which she describes as “a more integrated idea of health that involves a healthy human but also a healthy environment (which includes our planet and social environment).” Alexandra, on the other hand, pursued this fellowship in hopes to tie together her goal of “gain[ing] more insight to the problems faced by the Charlottesville community, and [to] offer whatever resources [she] can that will help address them” with her research for her Politics Distinguished Majors Program Thesis.

As fellows, Alexandra and Jessie primarily research Charlottesville’s food system under the advisement of Shantell. Jessie described how her research started with understanding charitable food systems and the underlying root causes of food insecurity, followed by research on advocacy tools. She said that working with the fellows and Shantell has been an incredible opportunity, stating she “always leave[s] [their] meetings revitalized and ready to take on another challenge… [which] really speaks to [Shantell’s] energy and the excitement around this justice-driven work.” As a research fellow, Alexandra emphasizes that the Charlottesville Food Justice Network is making the true impact. Her hope is that she and Jessie’s research will “provide them with valuable information to assess food insecurity in the city”.

Both fellows are eager to continue their research fellowship beyond this semester and are excited to continue this partnership between UVA and the greater Charlottesville community.